Are Airbnb’s Days Numbered? Another City Cracks Down on Illegal Rentals

Like New York City, Paris, and Amsterdam before it, officials in Barcelona, Spain are cracking down on unlicensed rental apartments, pointing fingers at Aribnb in particular. The Guardian reports that this effort was sparked by a rapid increase in tourists, who enjoy staying at the 16,000 rental units in the city. Almost 7,000 of these are unlicensed.

According to The Guardian, Barcelona officials fined Airbnb 60,000 Euros for listing unlicensed apartments. Currently, 40 inspectors are using special apps to check the licensure of apartments around the city. They test the validity of the property by comparing city licenses to its online posting. If caught, illegal apartment owners could face hefty fines.

With over three million people flying on commercial aircraft every day, Airbnb and other property rental services have spread all over the world. According to Airbnb’s website, the company operates in over 191 countries and has more than 3 million listings. Peter Huntingford, Airbnb public affairs spokesman, said in a statement to The Guardian that the company actually benefits Spaniards and tourists alike.

“We are committed to being good partners to cities and have worked closely with officials in city hall and the Generalitat [regional government],” he said. “Legislation needs to differentiate between regular people sharing their homes and professionals running a business…Home sharing is part of the solution to tourism challenges in Barcelona. It puts money in the pockets of local families, helps them afford their homes and spreads guests and benefits beyond tourist hotspots.”

Plus, Janet Sanz, a Councillor in charge of housing in Barcelona, said in a statement that Airbnb has no way of knowing if a given listing is actually an unlicensed apartment using a false registration number. If the city reports that they are false, the company does have a responsibility to remove the listing.

“It’s our job to check them because the platform doesn’t know if the owner has used a false number or not, and this is what we are doing. If they are false we will order them to close,” she said.

For popular vacation destinations like Barcelona, lodging preferences have evolved. About 22% of leisure travelers have stayed in a rental home rather than a hotel or resort in the past two years. Of these renters, 24% have stayed in a condominium resort. Unfortunately, this has meant higher rent for Barcelona’s tenants, as landlords can often make more money renting units on sites like Airbnb. The Guardian reports that rent in the city has increased by 23% in the last three years, and in some areas, residents are cashing in 60% of their income for housing.

Sanz told The Guardian that the city needs to prioritize its residents over tourists.

“Our attitude is zero tolerance. We will do everything we can to guarantee the right to housing in the city,” she said. “What these people have to understand is that Barcelona exists for its people. The priority is it’s a place to live.”

Airbnb properties have long been marketed for their convenience. Much like business people flying in a commercial aircraft report a 40% drop in productivity, some may say the same about overpriced hotels. Airbnb rentals feel more like home, but they could also be posing a threat to local residents.

The Guardian reports that in response to the threat to Barcelona’s locals, the city has stopped issuing licenses and will not be renewing permits for apartments in more tourist-heavy areas. They also have a hotline available for residents to report illegal apartments, which received 2,784 calls last year.

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